Fortification Friday: Square, rectangle, or even a cross – blockhouse forms

Last week, we introduced the blockhouse as an interior structure, perhaps better classified as a facility, within a field fortification.  Allow me to stress again, the context of Mahan’s writings in “Field Fortifications” about blockhouses was scoped to discuss the use of those sort of structures in conjunction with larger works.  It was not to say blockhouses would always be used as such, nor to dismiss other sorts of employment of that fortification type. This particular Mahan lesson (of which there were many, across several manuals, as we must recall) was focused on building a “keep” so the defenders might “keep” something valuable… their lives in the event all was lost.

Having discussed the concept and general layout of the blockhouse, Mahan turned to particulars:

With regard to the details of the construction, the timber for the sides should be twelve inches thick, to resist an attack of musketry, and to resist field-pieces, two feet, in which case the sides are formed of two thicknesses of twelve-inch timber. If the timber is placed upright, each piece should be let into a mortise in the cap-sill; and every fourth piece of the top, at least, should be notched on the cap-sill, to prevent the sides from spreading out.

This would form, in essence, the walls of the blockhouse.  Notice the prescribed thickness, in regard to the expected threat – be that musketry or artillery.  I would add that with the introduction of rifled artillery, the two foot thickness was insufficient.  But there begins a point of diminishing return. How much more timber should one add to the blockhouse, thus subtracting usable interior space, in order to defend against an Ordnance or Parrott rifle?  Ah… a question best addressed when we consider the post-war manuals!  So let’s hold that thought.

I do wish Mahan had included a good illustration of the proposed arrangement of timbers. And I’ve not located any other contemporary illustration to serve.  But the general idea is apparent… perhaps for generations who suffered the splinters from Lincoln Logs, if not so much for those of more recent times and their Lego bricks.  We will revisit the arrangement of timbers in the walls for the post-war manuals.

Moving forward, we need to consider the layout of those walls and how best to arrange the blockhouse in order to meet requirements:

The plan of the block-house must conform to its object generally; it may be square or rectangular.  If flank defenses are required, its play may be that of a cross. The interior height should not be less than nine feet, to allow ample room for loading the musket; this height will require that the timber of the sides shall be twelve feet long, in order to firmly set in the earth.  Sometimes a ground sill is placed under the uprights, but this is seldom necessary.  The width may be only twelve feet in some cases, but it is better to allow twenty feet; this will admit of a camp bed of boards on each side, six-and-a-half feet wide, and free space of seven feet….

So the layout, as seen from above, could be the square form familiar to us from the playsets of yore.  Or could be extended or expanded to use other layouts as tactical needs demanded.  The layout tended to employ right angles, however.  We look back at Figure 44, which is somewhat a cross, in plan:

PlateVIFig44

Notice how the dimensions are governed somewhat by the need to provide space for handling muskets.  Form will follow function.  The most important quality of the blockhouse, as a keep, is to allow the garrison to create a pause in the action, should the parapet be lost.

But “camp bed”?  Yes, that implies a place to sleep. But it was also a defensive arrangement.  “The camp bed serves also as a banquette; it is placed four feet three inches below the loop-hole, and has a slight slope of about eight inches inwards.”  Notice how the interior arrangement is to provide, in terms of wall to wall floor space, for a 6 ½ foot wide camp bed on each side with open space for seven feet between.

Now everything thus far has implied the garrison would only have muskets in the blockhouse.  Let us make arrangements, then, for artillery:

If cannon is to be used for the defense, the width must be at least twenty-four feet; this will allow eighteen feet for the service of the gun, which is generally ample, and six feet for a defense of musketry on the opposite side.  A greater width than twenty-four feet cannot well be allowed, because the bearing would be too great between the sides for twelve inch timber; and even for a width of sixteen feet it would be well to support the top pieces, by placing a girder under them on the shores.

Basically, bigger guns require more space.  So we adjust the arrangements.  But there is a physical limit as to how much more space is allocated.  If a really large blockhouse were built, it would require substantial structural reinforcement.  Better to stick with a single cannon per side, if used at all.

Since these arrangements place emphasis on affording space to handle weapons, be that musket or cannon, we need to discuss the loopholes in detail.  We’ll turn to that in the next installment.

(Citations from Dennis Hart Mahan, A Treatise on Field Fortifications, New York: John Wiley, 1852, pages 63-4.)

Hansbrough’s Ridge winter encampment site WILL be preserved!

Last week, Fredericksburg’s Free Lance-Star ran an article by Clint Schemmer, and concurrently run on their website, detailing efforts to preserve a Civil War site on Hansborough’s Ridge, in Culpeper County:

The Virginia Outdoors Foundation, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, the Civil War Trust and others are working to save Hansbrough’s Ridge, a commanding rampart near Stevensburg that sheltered a big part of the Army of the Potomac in the bitter-cold winter of 1863-64. The site is a Virginia Historic Landmark.

The VOF board voted Thursday to give the trust a $250,000 grant toward preserving the 174-acre site, contingent on a conservation easement being placed on it. The property, which stretches from State Route 3 north almost to Cole’s Hill, includes incredibly well-preserved remnants of soldiers’ camps, field hospitals, defensive trenches and a signal station.

In addition to the VOF grant, a pledge from the American Battlefield Protection Program and the seller leave the Civil War Trust and other preservationists within a short reach of closing this deal.  Clint’s article states around $50,000 would be needed to reach the sale price.

Hansbrough’s Ridge is one of those “lesser known” and “off the beaten path” sites where one can actually SEE history in situ.  Specific to its “battlefield” status, significant action played out across Hansbrough’s Ridge during the battle of Brandy Station.   Later in the same year of the war, the ridge became the winter home for portions of the Army of the Potomac’s Second Corps.  From late December, 1863 through the first days of May, 1864, soldiers lived on the Hansbrough’s Ridge.  When they broke camp there, they marched southeast towards the Rapidan River and the infamous Wilderness of Central Virginia.  Those steps down Hansbrough’s Ridge were the first of the Overland Campaign.

What makes Hansborough’s Ridge so remarkable is, in part due to remoteness from populated sections of the county and also in part due to geology of the ridge, the campsite was left unchanged for decades.  As the article notes:

Virginia historians say they know of only one surviving place from the war’s Eastern Theater that is somewhat comparable. It’s the 41-acre Stafford County Civil War Park, which holds three earthen forts and the remains of winter huts that Union troops built to warm themselves in the winter of 1862–63, a transformative time that many called their army’s “Valley Forge.”

Similarly, the following winter was important to resting and refitting soldiers of the Army of the Potomac who had been fighting for two years, and to drilling new recruits.

“Pristine” is a word often overused, in my opinion, in regard to Civil War sites.  There are precious few sites that are, by definition, pristine.  I can say that Hansbrough’s Ridge is absolutely the closest I’ve seen to pristine in my forty years of visiting Civil War sites.  In my visits, I’ve seen hut sites … not rock piles that were hut sites… but the actual hut sites with the walls as clearly defined as the day the soldiers left.  Some of these localities were captured in wartime photographs, offering vital context to what we see on the ground today.

I’m hesitant to post a lot of photos of the site, pending closure and firm security of the site from trespassing.  But allow me to offer one:

HR WE Site 037

We know, based on accounts of the soldiers who stayed on Hansbrough’s Ridge, were those bricks likely came from.  But that’s just the “thread” to follow here.  It will bring us to the larger story of how those soldiers lived; what they experienced; and most importantly, why they spent a cold, lonely winter on a ridgetop in Virginia.

That story is not just one of artifacts or rock-piles, but the context of their presence.  There are other reminders – in place, mind you – that speak of the haste as the soldiers broke camp that spring.  All of which is why this is an important site to preserve.  This site needs to be studied – properly and professionally – not looted by those who would “relic hunt” thus removing context from the artifacts.  You see, it is the RIDGE itself, and not some solitary button or dropped musket ball, that will tell this story.  The whole RIDGE.

And with a broader vision, we consider the efforts to preserve Hansbrough’s Ridge in light of efforts to create a state park for Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain Battlefields.  I can see a time when visitors can contemplate both battlefield and encampment while touring Culpeper’s Civil War sites.

Fortification Friday: Blockhouses as Safety Redoubts in the Fort

When I say “blockhouse” many of you might be thinking about favorite childhood playsets:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Certainly suitable for the defense of the bedroom in the face of the elite Confederate Plastic Brigade, or perhaps the indigenous Plastikawi tribe.  But… something that could not hold against the Green Army Men armed with bazookas and flamethrowers.

Kidding aside, the playset fort is pattered after real structures from American history.  The blockhouse was not unique to America, as it was a form brought over by Europeans.  However, the blockhouse became the preferred fortification on the North American continent from colonial times right up to the 20th century.  Blockhouses work well in situations where the enemy is unlikely to possess anything larger than light artillery.  The interior of the blockhouse was easily adapted into living quarters.  Conversely, living quarters (houses) might be easily adapted into a blockhouse.  Those, and other qualities, made that form of fortification popular on the frontier.

The popular image of a blockhouse is something made of wood.  But stone, or even adobe, might be used instead.  Since wood was in abundance on the early American frontier, we tend to see a lot of structures like this one:

Ft King George 3 Aug 11 1273

This is recreation of Fort King George, Darien, Georgia (a place with many, many layers of history).  In this particular case, the blockhouse served several roles – a high observation platform over the marsh, a platform for covering fire to protect approaches to the fort, and, in the event the works were overwhelmed, a final defense for the fort’s garrison.

It is that last function that Mahan had in mind when considering interior arrangements for field fortifications.  Blockhouses were a structure that could be used for what he called “safety redoubts”:

Safety Redoubt.  In enclosed works a place of retreat, into which the troops may retire in safety after a vigorous defense of the main work, will remove the fears of the garrison for the consequences of a successful attack of the enemy, and will inspire them with confidence to hold out to the last moment.

This interior work, which may be very properly be termed the keep, can only be applied to works of large interior capacity.  It may be formed of earth, or consist simply of a space enclosed by a defensive stoccade, or palisading.  In either case it should be about four feet higher than the main work, to prevent the enemy from obtaining a plunging fire in it from the parapet of the main work.

Let us pause here before going to Mahan’s formal introduction of the blockhouse.  This “hold out to the last” is a notion steeped in 19th century presumptions about how a siege would play out.  A garrison “holding out” would force the enemy to make a direct attack on the parapet… in other words, to get up close, personal, and… well… very violent with the defender.  And in that violent melee, the defender was not exactly in a position to call a “time out”.

The safety redoubt, or keep, was a place to retreat and, more importantly, force a pause in the action.  And from the keep, within that pause, the defender might negotiate a cessation of the fight, with honor.  Thus we see how that might allay fears of “consequences” for the garrison.

That in mind, Mahan offered his preference for the keep:

The best arrangement for the keep is the construction termed the block-house. This work is made of heavy timber, either squared on two sides or four; the pieces which form the sides of the block-house are either laid horizontally, and halved together at the ends, like an ordinary log-house, or else they are placed vertically, side by side, and connected at the top by a cap-sill. The sides are arranged with loop-hole defenses; and the top is formed by laying heavy logs, side by side, of the same thickness as those used for the sides, and covering them with earth to the depth of three feet.

Mahan offered this figure as an example of a blockhouse:

PlateVIFig43

This perspective is looking at the blockhouse along with a cross section of adjacent works and structures.  Rather busy.  This section is along the line a-b from Figure 44:

PlateVIFig44

The combined caption reads:

Figs. 43,44. Shows the plan and section of a block-house of upright timber.  The plan is made to exhibit a portion of the top complete; the timber covering the top; the arrangement of the cap pieces; a plan of the loop-holes; and a plan of the camp-bed. Fig. 43 exhibits, in a like manner, a cross section of the block-house and ditch; with interior and exterior elevation.

We will go into the particulars for construction in later posts.  What is important to identify here is the functional nature of this blockhouse.  Just as with the colonial-era Fort King George, we see a blockhouse adjacent to a ditch and other defensive structures.  One might say the blockhouse filled up the fort’s interior.

For an attacker, this presents a serious tactical problem.  One might defeat the defender on the parapet.  But the parapet would be a dangerous place to make a living with the blockhouse overlooking all. So you see where a “pause” would be in order.

Keep in mind, within this discussion of keeps, Mahan was not stating or suggesting that blockhouses only be constructed within and in conjunction with elaborate field works.  Rather that he offered that a blockhouse was a structure that served well as a keep inside a larger set of works.  We see that usage applied by his students during the Civil War.  Looking back again to Fortress Rosecrans:

FortressRosecrans

We see Redoubts Schofield, Brannan, T.J. Wood, and Johnson within the interior.  One wartime report described the arrangement as, “… strong against attack, being defended by large keeps, which deliver their fire upon every part of the interior.”  I would further add that most of the lunettes on the perimeter of this vast fortress included blockhouses.  So there were multiple “keeps” within a depth of the defense.  Keep in mind the scale of this fortress.  The safety redoubts, named above, were armed with 30-pdr Parrotts and 8-inch siege howitzers.  The Confederates would need to bring a large amount of iron in order to suppress the fort’s garrison.

But the size of this work was perhaps its weak point.  After the Army of the Cumberland moved further south, through the summer of 1863, there the need to keep this fortification in order was taxing, in terms of manpower. An 1865 report suggested all be reduced to simple blockhouses covering the bridge and depots.

That circles back to the point about blockhouse usage.  As said before, Mahan was not suggesting the only place to use a blockhouse was as a fort’s keep. But as his text was focused on field fortifications, the focus was on that function.  We will see blockhouses enter the conversation in regard to detached defenses in particular.  Furthermore, the post-war instructions would place more emphasis on the detached, singular blockhouse.

(Citations from Dennis Hart Mahan, A Treatise on Field Fortifications, New York: John Wiley, 1852, pages 62-3; OR, Series I, Volume XLIX, Part 2, Serial 104, page 502.)

Summary Statement, 2nd Quarter, 1863 – 2nd Regiment, US Regulars

The batteries of the 2nd US Artillery saw varied service during the Civil War – across several theaters of war and with several different assignments.  We saw examples of that service from the previous quarterly summaries.  Moving from winter into spring, the nature of the 2nd’s service remained… in a word… varied.

0168_1_Snip_2ndUS

We might also say the 2nd was orderly.  All returns filed were posted between July and October of 1863 (excepting, as you see above, that of Battery F).  However there are some blanks to fill in and some clarifications to make:

  • Battery A – Reporting from Warrenton Junction, Virginia with six 3-inch Ordnance Rifles. The location is certainly reflecting the August 10, 1863 receipt date, as we know for a fact this battery was just outside Gettysburg on June 30. As most readers likely know, after Chancellorsville and reorganization with the Horse Artillery, Captain John C. Tidball took over the freshly constituted 2nd Brigade of the Horse Artillery.  That brigade would include his old battery.  Lieutenant John H. Calef would famously command this battery when it went into action, July 1, 1863, on McPherson’s Ridge. And of course, one of those six Ordnance rifles is still out there today.
  • Battery B – Reporting at Taneytown, Maryland with six 3-inch Ordnance Rifles.   This was actually combined Batteries B and L (see below).  The battery was assigned to Second Brigade of the Horse Artillery, which was commanded it’s old commander, Captain James M. Robertson. Lieutenant Albert Vincent commanded the battery during the spring.  However, for the Gettysburg Campaign, Lieutenant Edward Heaton held the command.
  • Battery C – Port Hudson, Louisiana with six 12-pdr Napoleons.  The battery was part of Fourth Division, Nineteenth Corps. Lieutenant Theodore Bradley commanded.
  • Battery D – “In the field, VA” with six 12-pdr Napoleons.  Where else should a battery of Napoleons be?  Maybe a better description would be “on the way to Gettysburg.”  Battery D was assigned to Sixth Corps and commanded by Lieutenant Edward D. Williston.
  • Battery E –  [Illegible], Mississippi with six 20-pdr Parrott Rifles. While I cannot identify the placename, this battery was part of the Second Division, Ninth Corps, which had been sent from Kentucky to Vicksburg.  Lieutenant Samuel N. Benjamin remained in command.
  • Battery F – No report. Lieutenant Charles Green remained in command.  The battery moved to the District of Memphis, of the Sixteenth Corps.
  • Battery G – Reporting at Warrenton Junction, Virginia with six 12-pdr Napoleons.   The battery remained with Sixth Corps, and was among the mass of men moving towards Gettysburg at the end of June.  Lieutenant John H. Bulter was in command.
  • Battery H – Assigned to Fort Barrancas, Florida as garrison artillery.  We see “Infty. stores” indicated with no artillery equipment reported.  Captain Frank H. Larned was in command.
  • Battery I – Fort McHenry, Maryland.  No field artillery reported.  Lieutenant James E. Wilson commanded.
  • Battery K – Fort Pickens, Florida on garrison artillery assignment.  Captain Harvey A. Allen had command of this battery.
  • Battery L – We see a description “with Battery B” but with a location of [Illegible] City,  Maryland.  The Battery reported no cannon.
  • Battery M – No location given, but with six 3-inch Ordnance Rifles. Assigned to 1st Brigade, Horse Artillery.  And like others, the location might be summarized as “on the way to Gettysburg.”  Lieutenant A.C.M. Pennington resumed command, replacing Lieutenant Robert Clarke, after the Chancellorsville Campaign.

With at least some of the blanks filled in and questions answered, let us move on to the ammunition reported on hand.  Here we find a rather clean set of entries:

0170_1_Snip_2ndUS

Three batteries with Napoleons, so we have three lines to consider:

  • Battery C: 96 shot, 128 shell, 160 case, and 128 canister for 12-pdr Napoleons
  • Battery D: 273 shot, 110 shell, 321 case, and 64 canister for 12-pdr Napoleons.
  • Battery G: 144 shot, 144 shell, 288 case, and 192 canister for 12-pdr Napoleons.

Moving to the next page, we see the Ordnance Rifle batteries had Hotchkiss proejctiles:

0170_2_Snip_2ndUS

  • Battery A: 167 bullet shell for 3-inch rifles.
  • Battery B: 136 canister, 574 percussion shell, 307 fuse shell, and 213 bullet shells for 3-inch rifles.
  • Battery M: 72 canister and 185 bullet shells for 3-inch rifles.

Here we have some room for interpretation and conjecture about the numbers, and the reporting process. Batteries A and M would report quantities of Schenkl shells on the later pages, which we will get to.  But we see here those two batteries did not report a substantial quantity of ammunition on hand.  Hard to believe those two batteries, particularly Calef’s, had only a few dozen rounds per gun as of the end of June.  More likely is the reports were filed giving quantities on hand after the battle or at some point during the pursuit phase of the campaign.  But we simply don’t know that for sure.  We must make of the numbers what we can.

One other point I’d raise here is in regard to Battery B.  Reports indicate the battery suffered from a batch of bad shells during the Gettysburg Campaign.  We might speculate there is something beyond just the numbers here also.

Moving over to the next page, we can focus on the Parrott projectiles used by Battery E:

0171_1A_Snip_2ndUS

  • Battery E: 522 shell, 204 case, and 72 canister for 20-pdr Parrott rifles.

Moving to the last page of projectiles, we have a couple of entries for Schenkl:

0171_2_Snip_2ndUS

These make up, somewhat, for the shortages observed for Batteries A and M above:

  • Battery A: 145 shells for 3-inch rifles.
  • Battery M: 389 shells for 3-inch rifles.

Still the aggregate quantities come up short for what one would assume the batteries carried into action at Gettysburg.  Particularly noteworthy is the absence of canister for Battery A.

Lastly we turn to the small arms reported:

0171_3_Snip_2ndUS

By battery:

  • Battery A:  Fourteen Army revolvers, sixty-six Navy revolvers, eight cavalry sabers, and seventy-three horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery B: Six Army revolvers, thirteen cavalry sabers, and one horse artillery saber.
  • Battery C: Nineteen horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery D: Eighteen Arm revolvers and forty-three horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery E: Fifty-two Army revolvers, eight cavalry sabers, and thirty-one horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery G: Twelve Army revolvers and fifteen horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery M: 119 Army revolvers and twenty-six (or is it eighty-six?) horse artillery sabers.

The standout line on this end of the summary, if not the entire summary, is that of Battery A’s small arms.  If this is accurate for June 30, or at least representing what was on hand during the battle of Gettysburg, it is significant. The numbers are similar to that reported the previous quarter…. only indicating a net loss of four cavalry sabers.  I don’t have at my fingertips the personnel returns for Calef’s battery, but clearly most of the men would have had a revolver and a saber.  Such would contradict some assumptions often stated about artillerymen and small arms.

205 Years Ago: The New Madrid Earthquake and repercussions on the Civil War

Yesterday the US Geological Survey posted this reminder to their Facebook page:

The New Madrid Earthquake is well known though mostly as the answer to trivia questions. The presence of a major and active fault line in the middle of the continent is not unusual.  But as it sits in the middle of the United States, it is perhaps one of the most studied such faults.  What most interests me, having lived in that area and having a strong interest in the history, is how the earthquake affected the land in ways still visible today.  Specific to the Civil War, it is that changed landscape we must consider when studying several campaigns.  Most notably the Battle of Island No. 10.

The USGS website (linked in the post above) provides more details about the earthquake.  An important point to understand is the earthquake was not simply one incident on one date.  Yes, the most violent of the quakes was on February 7, 1812 measuring 7.5 in magnitude.  But that was just one among over 200 recorded between December 16, 1811 and March 15, 1812, “… ten of these were greater than about 6.0; about one hundred were between M5.0 and 5.9; and eighty-nine were in the magnitude 4 range.”  The quakes caused major damage across parts of the central Mississippi Valley.  Shaking was observed as far away as Washington and other cities on the Atlantic Coast.  In short, this was a “big one.” But at the time, the location was among the westernmost settlements in the United States.  So it was not as bad as it could have been – one recorded death in the sparsely populated region.

In terms of physical affects, the web article summarizes:

The earthquakes caused the ground to rise and fall – bending the trees until their branches intertwined and opening deep cracks in the ground. Deep seated landslides occurred along the steeper bluffs and hillslides; large areas of land were uplifted permanently; and still larger areas sank and were covered with water that erupted through fissures or craterlets. Huge waves on the Mississippi River overwhelmed many boats and washed others high onto the shore. High banks caved and collapsed into the river; sand bars and points of islands gave way; whole islands disappeared. Surface fault rupturing from these earthquakes has not been detected and was not reported, however. The region most seriously affected was characterized by raised or sunken lands, fissures, sinks, sand blows, and large landslides that covered an area of 78,000 – 129,000 square kilometers, extending from Cairo, Illinois, to Memphis, Tennessee, and from Crowley’s Ridge in northeastern Arkansas to Chickasaw Bluffs, Tennessee. Only one life was lost in falling buildings at New Madrid, but chimneys were toppled and log cabins were thrown down as far distant as Cincinnati, Ohio, St. Louis, Missouri, and in many places in Kentucky, Missouri, and Tennessee.

And I would point out that many of those affects are still visible today.  Driving through the area, one will often see discolored patches of sandy soil marking the location of a fissure or sand-blow.  However, one very notable remnant of this quake was large subsidence in Tennessee:

A notable area of subsidence that formed during the February 7, 1812, earthquake is Reelfoot Lake in Tennessee, just east of Tiptonville dome on the downdropped side of the Reelfoot scarp. Subsidence there ranged from 1.5 to 6 meters, although larger amounts were reported.

If you refer to the map embedded with the post above, Reelfoot Lake is just to the upper right of the bold Reelfoot Fault line, on the Tennessee side of the Mississippi River.  Where the river crosses the fault line is the area where Island No. 10 was located. I’ve written some on Island No. 10 in the past. Specifically how the topography has changed between 1862 and today, thanks in some part to work aimed at keeping the river in check.

But reflecting back to the earthquakes of 1811-12, there is another geographic and geologic component to consider.  Reelfoot Lake and the expansion of similar low areas on the Missouri side created a natural barrier.  One of my favorite contemporary illustrations to use when discussing the topography around Island No.10, New Madrid, and Reelfoot Lake is this one:

MississippiRiver1850cropped

Yes, horribly stylized with exaggerated features.  But the point is served, between Crowley’s Ridge and the Tennessee River lay a vast area of swamps and lowlands, interrupted at intervals with high ground such as the Chickasaw Bluffs.  These swamps inhibited transit on land, making the river a vital transportation and communication artery.

When studying terrain as it relates to military campaigns, normally we are drawn to mountains were passes become key terrain features that might be easily defended.  But in this case the “passes” are in fact waterways. And therefore we see a natural barrier that might be defended – not with fortifications cited on lofty purchases – but by batteries carefully placed on narrow strips of dry land to contest the passage of ships.  The Federals could not by-pass Island No.10 and its associated batteries due to the expanse of swamp.  Eventually, the key to unlocking this barrier lay in cutting a passage through the swamps.  And that effected, Reelfoot Lake turned from a feature anchoring the Confederate right flank, into a roadblock preventing retreat.  You see, those areas of subsidence caused by the New Madrid Earthquake figured prominently in the course of a major campaign.

And those were formed 205 years ago as the earth around New Madrid, Missouri shook.

Fortification Friday: “Arrangements Intended for the Comfort and Health of a Garrison”

All well and good to build up a fort, complete with obstacles and defilements for to make the attacker’s job that much harder. Better still to have the interior arrangements for proper placement, and protection, of batteries, with bombproof magazines filled with ammunition at the ready.  And maybe even offer some bombproofs just so the garrison can seek shelter from enemy fire.  But we must remember that for most of the fort’s existence, it will be more “home” for the garrison than defensive structure.

In short, a fort has to be “livable”, otherwise the garrison will go sour.  And by sour, we are referring to failing health and morale.  Disease and malaise have often felled more than bullets and shells.  Writing before the war, Mahan gave only general instructions in his treatise on fortification. But for the post-war instruction, Wheeler set aside a section specifically to discuss what he classified as, “Arrangements Intended for the Comfort and Health of a Garrison.”

Nature of the arrangements. – A garrison compelled to live within an enclosed space like a field work, should be provided with all the arrangements which are necessary for the health and for the comfort of the men, consistent with surrounding circumstances.

The arrangements essential to the health and comfort of the men include those intended to protect them from the weather, to provide for their support, and to supply their necessities.

Necessities?  Yes, we are talking, for the most part, about facilities for personal hygiene, food preparation, and berthing. Hurrah for the Sanitary Commission!  Of course, under the “consistent with surrounding circumstances” the commander might bring in other amenities such as a hospital or sutler store. But, all depended upon circumstances.

As for particulars:

The principal arrangements are the tents, huts, or shelters in which the men are sheltered; the guard-houses, and rooms for those on duty; the kitchens and bake-ovens in which the food is prepared; the sinks or privies, and the places provided for the men for washing themselves and their clothing; the hospitals for the sick; etc. Wells, or means of providing the garrison with a supply of good drinking water, form no unimportant part of the arrangements necessary for the comfort as well as the health of a garrison.

But for all that importance, Wheeler lacked the space necessary to best cover this subject:

The limits of this book will not admit of a discussion, nor even a reference to the various divisions, of this important section of the interior arrangements of a field work.

Those arrangements are second only to those required for actual defense, and in many cases they are equal, as the defense of the work in a great measure depends upon them.

The only rule that can be laid down is to make all these arrangements of a temporary character, and to place them so that they can be removed, at a moment’s notice, out of the way of any interference with an active defense of the fortification.

Certainly, Wheeler’s words on this subject reflected extensive experience from the Civil War. We can find evidence attesting to this at numerous surviving sites.  In addition to the works, we see company streets laid out with tent pads or huts provided; kitchens in close, but safe, proximity; sinks, not so close in proximity; and always attention paid to water.  Not just clean water for drinking and cleaning, but also ensuring any standing, stagnant water was drained away.

With respect to the limited space allocated within the fortification manuals, there were other classes at West Point and other manuals of instruction. Perhaps best serving that point, we consult Major General Daniel Butterfield’s Camp and Outpost Duty for Infantry, published in 1863:

In camp, the best water will be pointed out before the men are dismissed… The places for cooking and sinks must be pointed out to the orderly sergeants of companies… The cooking places must be chosen with a view to avoid danger of fire.

It must be explained to the men, as a standing order, that when no regular sinks are made, nor any particular spot pointed out, they are to go to the rear, at least 200 yards beyond the sentries of the rear guard.  All men disobeying this order must be punished.

Punished for the sake of their own health and comfort, mind you!

(Citations from Junius B. Wheeler, The Elements of Field Fortifications, New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1882, pages 155-6;  Daniel Butterfield, Camp and Outpost Duty for Infantry, New York: Harper & Brothers, 1863, page 53.)

Summary Statement, 2nd Quarter, 1863 – 1st Regiment, US Regulars

So to start the review of the summary statements from the second quarter, 1863, the First Regiment of the US Artillery is appropriately at the front of the queue:

0168_1_Snip_1stUS

The batteries of the First were detailed to assignments across various theaters of war, though not to the Trans-Mississippi.  Looking at the administrative details by battery:

  • Battery A – Reporting at Port Hudson, Louisiana with four 12-pdr Napoleons and two 3-inch rifles.  A location change from the previous quarter, but their charges remained the same. Captain Edmund C. Bainbridge remained in command of this battery, assigned to First Division, Nineteenth Corps. Of note, Bainbridge also served as the division’s artillery chief.
  • Battery B – At Hilton Head, South Carolina with four 12-pdr field howitzers, and adding two 3-inch rifles (over the previous quarter’s report).  Lieutenant Guy V. Henry commanded this battery, assigned to Tenth Corps.  Henry temporarily served as the Chief of Artillery, Department of the South, from around June 19 through the first week of July.  But no “fill in” battery commander is indicated on the records.
  • Battery C – At Fort Macon, North Carolina with a dim annotation I interpret as “inf’y service”.  However, the line does not tell the whole story. A detachment from Battery C, under Lieutenant James E. Wilson, served in the Tenth Corps, and would be active in South Carolina.
  • Battery D – No change from the previous quarter.  At Beaufort, South Carolina with four 3-inch rifles. Lieutenant John S. Gibbs assumed command of the battery.  Though co-located with Battery M, the two were officially listed separately in organizational returns.
  • Battery E – Reporting at, if I am reading this right, Manchester, Pennsylvania with four 3-inch rifles.  If my read of the location column is correct, this is an excellent “snapshot in time” of a battery on campaign… at least for the location column, keeping in mind the return was not received until August 11, 1863. Of course, Captain Alanson Randol was in command of this battery, which was merged with Battery G (below), as part of the 2nd Brigade of Horse Artillery, Cavalry Corps, Army of the Potomac.
  • Battery F – Port Hudson, Louisiana with six 12-pdr Napoleons. Under Captain Richard C. Duryea, this battery served Third Division, Nineteenth Corps.  Duryea is also listed as commanding the division’s artillery at this time.
  • Battery G – No report.  Dyer’s has Battery G’s personnel serving with Battery E at this time.
  • Battery H – At Warrenton, Virginia with six 12-pdr Napoleons. The location is an obvious error.  The battery had moved from Third Corps to the Artillery Reserve after Chancellorsville. So the location might more accurately be Frederick, Maryland.  Captain Chandler P. Eakin commanded the battery.  Though just two days into the next quarter he was severely wounded, with Lieutenant Philip D. Mason assuming the role.
  • Battery I – No return.  But we are familiar with Lieutenant George Woodruff’s battery, which brought six 12-pdr Napoleons into action at Gettysburg.  They were assigned to Second Corps.
  • Battery K – Another difficult to read location entry.  I cannot make out the town, but the state is “MD”.  So we might also presume this to be a report reflecting an “on campaign” position, as of June 30.  The battery reported six 3-inch Ordnance rifles.  -Also with 2nd Brigade of the Horse Artillery, supporting the Cavalry Corps, Captain William Graham was the commander.
  • Battery L – Reporting at Port Hudson, Louisiana with four 12-pdr Napoleons and two 10-pdr Parrotts. Captain Henry W. Closson’s battery was in Forth Division, Nineteenth Corps.
  • Battery M – At Beaufort, South Carolina with four 12-pdr Napoleons (losing two 3-inch Ordnance rifles from the previous quarter).  Captain Loomis L. Langdon lead this battery,  assigned to the Tenth Corps.

As mentioned in the preface, as the transition between the second and third quarter of 1863 came at a critical stage of the war, we need to consider the “receipt at ordnance office” date with these details.  For the 1st US batteries providing returns, six were not received until August of that year.  Two more arrived in September.  Another in December.  And not until April 1864 did Battery F’s return arrive at the Washington offices.  (As indicated above, there were two missing battery returns.)

All of which is good background to keep in mind.  The particulars that were not tracked on the form speak to how the data arrived for entry into the form.  With that in mind, let us look at the tallies for projectiles.  Starting with the smoothbore ammunition:

0170_1_Snip_1stUS

The preponderance of entries were for 12-pdr Napoleon rounds.

  • Battery A: 40 shot, 56 shell, 110 case, and 33 canister for 12-pdr Napoleon.
  • Battery B: 400 shell, 500 case, and 100 canister for 12-pdr field howitzer.
  • Battery F: 448 shot, 300 shell, 382 case, and 200 canister for 12-pdr Napoleon.
  • Battery H: 288 shot, 96 shell, 288 case, and 96 canister for 12-pdr Napoleon.
  • Battery K: One (1) shot for 12-pdr Napoleon.  As this battery had only 3-inch rifles, we have to ask if this is just a stray mark… or the battery lugged around a single Napoleon shot for… perhaps… bowling?
  • Battery L: 236 shot, 8 shell, 182 case, and 40 canister for 12-pdr Napoleon.
  • Battery M:  475 shot, 138 shell, 494 case, and 96 canister for 12-pdr Napoleon.

Aside from the question about Battery K, there is also a question about some reported quantities.  As related in the preface to this quarter, we have to ask for the batteries in action at Gettysburg if these are quantities on hand June 30?  Or for some other point after the battle?  And I would submit that question need be assess on a battery-by-battery basis.

Moving to the rifled projectiles, we note the number of Ordnance rifles results in a healthy sheet for Hotchkiss patent types:

0170_2_Snip_1stUS

Looking down by battery:

  • Battery A: 12 canister and 202 percussion shell for 3-inch rifles.
  • Battery B: 280 canister, 422 percussion shell, 227 fuse shell, and 275 bullet shell for 3-inch rifles.
  • Battery D: 86 canister, 50 percussion shell, 176 fuse shell, and 150(?) bullet shell for 3-inch rifles.
  • Battery E: 60 canister, 180 percussion shell, and 360 bullet shells for 3-inch rifles.
  • Battery K: 60-canister and 56 bullet shells for 3-inch rifles.
  • Battery M:  12 canister, 12 percussion shell, 24 fuse shell, and 20 bullet shells for 3-inch rifles.

First off, Battery M must have retained a small quantity of rounds on hand after transferring it’s 3-inch rifles to another battery.

The other question that springs to mind is regarding the low numbers reported for some batteries, such as Battery K.  We might speculate if that reflects the quantity on hand after a battle or major campaign.  But that’s speculation.

For the next page, we can cut down to the colums on the far right:

0171_1A_Snip_1stUS

Let us focus first on the Parrott columns:

  • Battery L: 150 shell and 220 canister for 10-pdr Parrott.
  • Battery M:  130 case for 10-pdr Parrott.

Once again, we find Battery M with ammunition that will not fit its guns.

Moving over to the right, there is one entry here for Schenkl projectiles:

  • Battery L: 20 shot for 10-pdr Parrott.

Then on the next page of Schenkl projectiles, two numbers to consider:

0171_2_Snip_1stUS

  • Battery B: 100 shells for 3-inch rifles.
  • Battery K: 127 shells for 3-inch rifles.

This explains some of the shortages noted on the Hotchkiss page.  But we see batteries mixing the two types of projectiles, against the better wishes of General Hunt.

Lastly we move to the small arms:

0171_3_Snip_1stUS

Yes, we see a bunch of write-in column headers here!  Only one of which applies to this set of batteries:

  • Battery A: Nine Army revolvers and 119 horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery B: One-hundred Army revolvers, seven cavalry sabers, and 153(?) horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery D: 123 Army revolvers, eight cavalry sabers, and 107 horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery E: Nine Navy revolvers and nine horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery F: Ten Army revolvers, forty-seven cavalry sabers, and twenty horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery H: Twenty-one Navy revolvers and sixteen horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery K: Sixteen Army revolvers, thirty-six cavalry sabers, and seventy-eight horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery L: Four Springfield .58 caliber muskets, sixty-two Army revolvers, eight cavalry sabers, and 107 horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery M: Seventy-seven Springfield .58 caliber muskets, 104 Navy revolvers, nine cavalry sabers, and ninety-five horse artillery sabers.

We’ve discussed in earlier posts the peculiarities of small arms issue to field artillery batteries. Service in the Department of the South, were batteries were detailed to perform many non-artillery tasks, was one factor here.  Still, the batteries of the 1st US Regiment would seem to be armed to the teeth!